JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL)- Ballad Health says that as of Monday morning, four children were hospitalized with Covid-19, with three of them in the PICU at Niswonger Children’s Hospital.

“We have two teenagers and one child who is less than the age of three in the PICU right now, so it’s a risk for everyone,” said Ballad Health CEO Alan Levine. One of those children is on a ventilator.

Now, the children’s hospital is creating a surge plan.

“It’s a fairly new phenomenon seeing the number of children being affected by the Delta variant,” he said.

Levine is concerned over how quickly the Delta variant spreads and how it’s impacting children. The symptoms also show up faster than what they did with the original strain.

“With the Delta variant we’re seeing children not only being hospitalized but you’re also seeing children who may not be hospitalized but who end up with symptoms,” he said. “The literature is starting to show is that some of these children end up with long haul symptoms.”

Those symptoms include brain fog, heart palpitations, and fatigue for several months after the virus’ onset.

The alarming numbers come as students are heading back to school across the region and the hospital saw high numbers of respiratory illnesses like RSV and parainfluenza over the summer.

“Typically you don’t see those until the winter so what we’re concerned about now is you have Covid-19, the delta variant, and as we go into the fall, which is when you start to see the influenza virus spread,” Levine said. “Over the course of the next seven days, we’re going to be having a lot of children congregating and that concerns us of course, if they’re not masked, if they’re not vaccinated, I think you’ll see an increased number of cases.”

Levine suggests parents follow CDC guidelines and have their children wear a mask while at school.

“Balance the risk of the downside of wearing masks with the downside of catching this virus and having your child end up on a ventilator or have long haul symptoms,” he said. “Weigh the risk of your child sitting in the room next to somebody who has this virus, particularly if your child has asthma or other kinds of co-morbidities, consider that risk.”

Along with masking, Levine says families should consider getting the vaccine, especially if they have children under the age of 12 who aren’t yet eligible.

“It minimizes the risk because the population under 12 is exposed and potentially spreading it,” he said. “If you choose not to wear a mask and not to vaccinate, what I pray for is that we have enough staff to take care of your child if they end up in the ER or in the ICU and there’s a very real chance that can happen.”

Levine anticipates the next two weeks to be “telling” with the numbers since this variant spreads much faster and the symptoms show up much earlier.